Sunday, September 25, 2016

Protecting Those That Protest Them


From 1988- 1995, I worked as a Firefighter and in EMS.  I worked Emergency Room. I drove an ambulance or rode in the back of one caring for patients, I sat the "jump seat" of the fire truck.  I responded to hundreds of accidents and fires.  I packed up and made entry into burning structures, crawling on my hands and knees in dark, smoke filled rooms with fire dancing across the ceiling, just moments from flashing over looking for wounded or injured.  I fell partway through the roof of a burning structure.   I fought grass fires to save crops and property.   I crawled into overturned vehicles to stabilize the c-spine of combative patients who may have been drinking.  I did chest compressions on patients until my own chest hurt, hoping beyond hope that we would somehow get a pulse.   I used my bare hands over gunshot wounds to stop bleeding when a patient would be "dumped" at the ER door.  I drove in heat, in rain, in snow and ice responding to accident and injury all the time hoping and praying that in responding I would not cause another or that my partner or I would become ones ourselves.    I also responded to crime scenes. 

In every response in the ambulance and most in the fire truck, we responded with, or sometimes at the request of a law enforcement officer.  

Every night I worked in the ER, there was always an officer of the law somewhere in the department  - either doing reports in the break room, bringing in patients, getting treatment for suspects, helping victims or just getting a cup of bad "break-room coffee."  

More than once, when working ER in San Diego, a police officer volunteered to put my bicycle in the back of a squad car and give me a ride home, just because it was raining.  

More than once, law enforcement officers- State Troopers,  County Sheriff or Local Police would jump in the back of the ambulance on a "purely medical" case to lend a hand with chest compressions or bagging - even though another firefighter would be available- and even though they knew that with the patients down time, the response time and distance, it was probably hopeless.  

More than once a police officer would put a hand on my shoulder and say a kind word, when we had fought a loosing fight.  

And more than once we all attended funerals, for Emergency Responders - Firefighters, Law Enforcement and EMS; for one of our fallen brethren.   

In all those responses and indents, I can never remember a Law Enforcement Officer, fellow Firefighter or fellow EMT-D or EMT-P ever base a response or action at a scene on race or ethnicity.  I never knew the race of the accident victim on the way to the scene.   We never heard a police officer call in a structure fire saying "smoke showing over residence- and oh, the people who own it are [insert race here]."  

Truth be told, I personally only remember the ethnicity of ONE patient I helped treat.  I was 19 years old and working in the Emergncy Room at University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.  She was almost 2 years old.  She was Native American.  She was in an automobile roll-over accident on reservation land south of Tucson.  She was not in a car seat, and her mother had an elevated blood alcohol level.   It was the morning of January 1, 1989.  I helped wheel the mother up to the little-girl's room and watched as the girl's heart rate kept getting slower and slower- until the nurse finally shut off the ECG.  I also remember walking outside, picking up a phone and calling my own mom in tears, partially because my mom was a nurse and I knew she would understand.  But I mostly I called to say thanks for being a great mom.    

Does racism exist? Of course it does.  Are there racist Law Enforcement Officers and Emergency Responders- Yes, I am sure there are.  

But we need to stop painting every police officer, every deputy sheriff, every state trooper or highway patrolman with the same brush.   The majority of officers and first responders are good people.   They do a job that many times is unappreciated. They deserve our thanks and our appreciation.  

Most of us only interact with law enforcement in awkward situations at best or in situations that are just plain bad.   We have been pulled over.  We have been in an accident.  The house has been robbed.   We are, understandably in a stressful situation and then we have a person with a badge prying into our lives.   For the most part we don't often see law enforcement when we are at our best.  Working with law enforcement often paints a different picture.  Law enforcement officers are just like every single one of us.  They have the same human strengths and weakness.  They have good and bad days.  They laugh.  They joke. They even cry.   

One thing I knew without question - if a gunman had come into the ER I worked in (one did in an ER up the road from where I worked when I was in California - two were killed and two injured in the Mission Bay ER shooting), or if a scene I was working "went south," the officers around me would have my back and put themselves in harms way to protect me if need be.  

Yes, there are those that have cause to be angry or have cause not to trust law enforcement.  But the actions of individuals are not the same as the actions or attitudes of all law enforcement.  

There are over 1 million Law Enforcement Officers in the US.  Not all of them are paid- many are volunteers or other reserve officers who don't receive pay- but all risk their lives with every traffic stop or response to a scene.  

Out of over a million officers, yes there are some who do now or previously have brought dishonor to themselves or their profession.  But we should remember- the vast majority have not. 

One of the great beauties of our Country is that we have the right to protest.  Lawful protests are wonderful.  Even better is that the very police officers and departments being protested will protect the protests and protestors.  

It is really something that is actually quite special and quite impressive; those who are the targets of protest, will protect with their lives those that are protesting them.  

That's something we should never forget.  



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